Local veterans group accuses treasurer of stealing

John Peterson is accused of blowing thousands of dollars that belonged to AMVETS

John Peterson is accused of blowing through thousands of dollars that belonged to AMVETS on personal expenses. (Courtesy photo)
John Peterson is accused of blowing through thousands of dollars that belonged to AMVETS on personal expenses. (Courtesy photo)

YAMHILL CO., Ore. (KOIN) — Veterans Charlie McCarthy and Doug Birge are on a mission to get the local branch of American Veterans back on its financial feet.

The friends tell KOIN 6 News one of their own betrayed them by blowing through thousands of dollars on personal expenses.

“I want him off the street,” Birge said. “I’m beyond mad.”

Charlie McCarthy spent 3 years overseas during his time in the U.S. Navy. (Courtesy photo)
Charlie McCarthy spent 3 years overseas during his time in the U.S. Navy. (Courtesy photo)

Both Birge and McCarthy were a part of the group that grilled their former treasurer about why their bank account was drained. The interactions were recorded on DVDs.

“Did you not use our card to make that purchase?” Birge asked.

“If it says I did, I did,” former AMVETS treasurer John Peterson replied.

Air Force officials say Peterson served in the reserves for 20 years.

His volunteer efforts are documented on his Facebook page, but also documented are AMVETS’ financial records that Birge and McCarthy say they have in a binder.

“Several bar bills… took his girlfriend out to dinner,” McCarthy said the records show. “Thirty-five dollars for a candy bar he bought for 99 cents because it was overdraft.”

In total, Birge said Peterson spent $18,000-19,000 that was meant for vets in need.

“I’ve had guys sit with their families that are missing arms and legs. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan veterans and young families. To see them there and what they’ve given, and to know what this guy has taken from him,” McCarthy said, shaking his head.

Doug Birge was wounded during a fire fight in Vietnam in 1968. (Courtesy photo)
Doug Birge was wounded during a fire fight in Vietnam in 1968. (Courtesy photo)

But getting to the bottom of where the money went wasn’t easy for the group.

“What you have basically done here is commingle funds… is that correct?” Birges can be heard asking Peterson in a video recording.

“There’s national AMVETS money being deposited, and they only sent one means of payment,” Peterson replied.

“So you commingled the money, in essence?” Birge asked again.

“Yes, in this case I did that,” Peterson admitted.

Peterson allegedly admitted using the group’s bank account because he didn’t have his own. He said he only spent money from his paycheck or funds that were reimbursed from the national organization.

The group voted to kick Peterson out, but wanted him to be punished further.

After months of compiling paperwork and asking Yamhill County authorities to investigate, Peterson was indicted on 13 charges presented by the Oregon Attorney General, including using AMVETS’ credit cards for his personal use and forging checks.

John Peterson is accused of blowing through thousands of dollars that belonged to AMVETS on personal expenses. (Courtesy photo)
John Peterson is accused of blowing through thousands of dollars that belonged to AMVETS on personal expenses. (Courtesy photo)

Birge and McCarthy said they spoke with KOIN 6 News to get their story out because they want other veterans groups to confront those who steal from them.

“We know for a fact money is disappearing from other places that could go to help all these veterans,” McCarthy said. “We worked on this for 2 years… we haven’t been cordial to people who told us ‘no.'”

Many embezzlers are prosecuted, but some charities fear that if information about the incidents goes public, it could hurt their image and their ability to fundraise.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a study said 1 in 4 charities did not fire employees suspected of stealing. But their silence can allow the perpetrators to continue stealing from their cause.

“Twenty-two veterans a day are committing suicide,” Birge said. “Just think where all this money could have gone to help those people.”

Peterson was set to take a plea bargain last month, court records show, but it was postponed. He will be back in court for a hearing before his case goes to trial.